Essential Guide to the Different Types of Trailer Hitches 

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If you’re new to the towing world and need a trailer hitch, you may write it off as an easy decision requiring very little thought and consideration. However, there are half a dozen trailer hitches, each serving a different purpose. Therefore, it’s important to know how each type of trailer hitch works so that you can choose the right one for your needs. 

Exploring Trailer Hitch Varieties

All in all, there are seven different types of trailer hitches, including the following:

  • Rear Receiver/Mount hitch
  • Front Mount Hitch
  • Gooseneck hitch
  • Fifth wheel hitch
  • Pintle hitch
  • Weight distribution hitch

A rear mount hitch is the most common type of hitch you’ll see on the open highway. It is commonly used to tow anything from a small trailer to a large RV and can be installed on any type of vehicle. However, it has limitations on where it can be used, explaining why so many other types of hitches are available. 

Rear Receiver Bumper Hitches

Common hitch type with a square receiver tube, mounted directly to the vehicle frame, and weight ratings based on a 5-class scale. As we said before, the bumper hitch is the most common hitch available, given that it can be used on any type of vehicle. 

The five weight classes for a ball mount receiver hitch are as follows: 

  • Class 1 – Can handle up to 2,000 pounds 
  • Class 2 – Can handle up to 3,500 pounds 
  • Class 3 – Can handle up to 8,000 pounds 
  • Class 4 – Can handle up to 10,000 pounds 
  • Class 5 – Can handle up to 20,000 pounds 

It’s important to have the right class of bumper hitch for your vehicle. For instance, if you have a Subaru Outback with a towing capacity of 3,000 pounds, you’ll want a Class 1 or 2 hitch. If you have a truck, minivan, or SUV with more towing power, you’ll want a Class 3 or 4 rear receiver hitch. 

There are many different companies that make rear-receiver trailer hitches, but Curt is one of the best. You can use this type of hitch to tow a travel trailer with your truck, a small boat with your SUV, or even a tiny moving trailer with your car. 

Image courtesy of Etrailer

Front Mount Hitches

Although they aren’t quite as common or heavy-duty as rear-receiver hitches, front-mount trailer hitches are another good option. Front-mount hitches are a versatile option that bolts to the vehicle’s front frame, which is ideal in applications like bike racks, cargo carriers, or snow plows.

While you can’t tow a trailer or RV with a front-mount trailer hitch, they’re perfect for bike carriers and other types of cargo carriers. We often see them on trucks and SUVs that are towing a boat or travel trailer that also need a carrier for extra belongings. 

As with a ball mount hitch, many great front-mount hitch options exist, including Curt, Reese, and Draw-Tite. They are basically like bumper hitches that mount to the front instead of the back and even feature the same square receiver tube. Most front-mount hitches can hold vertical loads of between 500 and 2,000 pounds and can push or pull up to 8,000 pounds. 

Image courtesy of Etrailer

5th-Wheel Hitches

A fifth-wheel hitch is a heavy-duty hitch for pickup trucks that tow large campers, travel trailers, and car haulers. 

Fifth-wheel hitches sit directly above the rear axle of the towing vehicle, and it attaches to whatever you’re towing via a coupling device and kingpin, rather than a ball and hitch. 

A 5th-wheel hitch has significantly more towing capabilities than a ball-mount rear hitch and can handle up to 30,000 pounds. It’s typically bolted to the bed of a pickup truck, then the kingpin of your trailer slides into the receiver on the hitch, which then locks it firmly in place. 

Many reputable manufacturers of fifth-wheel tow hitches exist, but Reese stands out as one of the best. 

Image courtesy of Etrailer  

Gooseneck Hitches

Gooseneck hitches are designed for heavy-duty towing of up to 30,000 lbs, are suitable for pickup trucks, and are often used for commercial and industrial trailers. 

These types of hitches get their name because they’re only compatible with gooseneck trailers.  

Gooseneck hitches are like a combination of a 5th-wheel hitch and a bumper hitch. The hitch sits in the bed of a pickup truck or semi but consists of a round ball and coupler, similar to that of a bumper hitch, rather than the kingpin locking mechanism of a standard fifth wheel. B&W makes one of the top gooseneck trailer hitches on the market. 

Image courtesy of Etrailer 

Pintle Hitches

If you need one of the most heavy-duty hitches on the market, the pintle hitch, such as the Brophy, is the way to go. These hitches are often used as a hooking system for commercial trucks in the construction, military, and agricultural industries. 

Generally speaking, a pintle hitch can tow anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 lbs.

A pintle hitch attaches to the rear of your towing vehicle, but instead of a ball, there’s a hook. The hook then clasps to a pin on the front of whatever you’re towing and locks it into place. This pintle system allows for more movement and leeway than a traditional rear-mount hitch, which is why it’s commonly used on rough terrain. 

Image courtesy of Etrailer

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Weight Distribution Hitches: Balancing the Load

Last but not least, you can also choose a weight distribution hitch (WDH.) As the name implies, weight distribution hitches are meant to distribute the weight of whatever you’re towing across the entire frame of the towing vehicle. It consists of a rear-mount receiver hitch, a ball and coupler, and weight distribution bars that attach from the front of the trailer to the hitch. 

How a Weight Distribution Hitch Works

With a traditional rear-mount hitch, all of the weight of whatever you’re towing sits on the rear bumper of the towing vehicle. This creates a lot of wear and tear and increases the risk of the trailer swaying, causing an accident. 

Because of how the weight distribution bars connect from the trailer to the hitch, it takes most of the weight off the rear bumper and distributes it over the front and rear axles. This eases the strain exerted on your tow vehicle and makes for a safer and more comfortable towing experience. 

Additionally, because the trailer’s weight is now evenly distributed throughout the entire towing vehicle, weight distribution hitches often have a higher towing capacity than a typical rear hitch. I highly recommend a WDH, such as the Reese Pro System, to any beginner because of how much easier it is to tow RVs, boats, and heavy trailers with a weight distribution hitch.  

Image courtesy of Etrailer

Matching Trailer Hitch Types to Towing Applications

Now that you know the various trailer hitch types, let’s look at how to choose the type that’s right for you. 

RVs 

If you’re towing an RV, you can use three different types of hitches: a fifth-wheel hitch, a weight distribution hitch, or a standard receiver hitch. You’ll need a fifth-wheel hitch if you have a fifth-wheel camper, and a weight distribution hitch if you have a travel trailer weighing more than 5,000 pounds. 

For travel trailers with a tongue weight of less than 250 pounds and gross trailer weight of less than 3,500 pounds, a standard rear-mount hitch is sufficient. 

Livestock Trailers

Choosing the right hitch for your livestock trailer depends on your towing needs. While somewhat self-explanatory, you’ll need a gooseneck hitch if your livestock trailer has a gooseneck. If it’s a fifth-wheel, you will need a fifth-wheel hitch. If you have a light-duty livestock trailer with a front coupler, a rear-receiver trailer hitch will do. 

Heavy-Duty Trucks

Heavy-duty trucks, such as semis or large flatbeds, will need either a gooseneck hitch or a pintle hitch, depending on the type of trailer you’re towing. 

Final Thoughts

In addition to choosing the right type of hitch based on what you’re towing, there are also many different brands of hitches within each category. It’s important to match the towing capacity of the hitch you choose to the towing capacity of your tow vehicle. You should also consider weight capacity if you’re choosing a front or rear hitch system for a snow plow, cargo carrier, or bike rack. 

Once you’re finished towing your RV, utility trailer, or flatbed, you’ll need a safe and secure place to store your load. Consider using Neighbor, a peer-to-peer storage marketplace, to find safe, affordable, and climate-controlled storage near you! 

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